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Holiday blues

12/20/05 12:00AM By Caleb Daniloff
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(HOST) For commentator Caleb Daniloff and his family, Christmas is all in the eye of the beholder.

(DANILOFF) I've just put all the crumpled wrapping paper and flat-
tened gift boxes in the recycling bin. Santa's half-eaten cookies are in the trash and our stockings hang limp on the back of the sofa. Christmas '05 is over - at least in our house.

My wife, stepdaughter and I have always celebrated Christmas
on the Sunday before the 25th. We used to call it Early Christmas. Now it's simply Our Christmas.

This re-jiggered holiday first took shape in the ashes of a failed marriage. Chris and her daughter's father split up nine years ago.
It was a delicate time. For the sake of stability, Chris agreed to Shea continuing to spend Christmas with her father's family in Massachusetts.

Unwilling to sit out the magic, however, Chris told Shea she'd struck a deal with Santa to stop by ahead of time; they could still wake up to stockings and presents together. Ever since, its been M&M pancakes and chocolate Santas the Sunday before. Beyond our windows, the rest of town is grocery shopping or reading the paper or heading for stores.

And while Shea looks forward to a second Christmas with her dad, Chris and I enter a holiday netherworld. It's the Monday after, and no one at work asks what we got, or what was on our dinner table. Not wanting to explain an old divorce and the trade-offs people make, we don't bring it up. This year, we're operating a full week ahead of society, a community of two living in the future with the post-Christmas blues.

As I pass through the mall on my way from work, past the vitamin and video-game stores, lingerie displays and jewelry counters, I'm reminded that freedom from the group is paid for with a certain loneliness. I'm standing still watching the blur of shoppers, the sweating of presents, the last-minute sales. Already the garlands threading the railings seem tired. I've slipped from the machinery, blissfully at rest. But I'm sitting apart, no longer sharing, even if its just in madness.

Chris and I spend much of the 25th in the car. The roads and highways are mostly deserted as we head down to Massachu-
setts. We pass houses with electric window-candles and crowded driveways, smoke billowing from chimneys. Inside, eggs sizzle on skillets, coffeepots warm on burners. Everyone is at last unwinding from that wicked commercial spin, coming to rest in each other's arms.

We collect Shea from her relatives and begin the three-hour drive home. We chat about the presents she got and what Santa brought, but such talk doesn't last long. We soon fill the spaces with other things: word games, music, silence. Shea will usually fall asleep.

I'll stare down the blank highway, at the darkened fast-food joints and lonely gas stations. I'll realize one of the greatest gifts Chris and I share every holiday season is the understanding that our lives are not set in stone, that you're never actually stuck either in time or place. Nine years ago, Chris lifted our most celebrated holiday and set it down in another spot, demonstrating that life unfolds in the head, and in the heart. Change your mind and you can change reality; change your heart and you can change someone else's. I'll switch off the radio and take in the sound of the asphalt rushing beneath us, the trees racing outside, the three of us alone together.

This is Caleb Daniloff of Middlebury.

Caleb Daniloff is a freelance writer, and recipient of the 2005 Ralph Nading Hill Jr. Literary Prize.
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